Choosing Maori baby names

There are loads of good reasons for giving your little one a Maori name. Besides being a cool Kiwi thing to do, you might like a Maori name for your new boy or girl because it:

  • Recognises that te reo Maori (the Maori language) is one of New Zealand’s three official languages alongside English and sign language
  • Acknowledges your Maori heritage and/or your recognition of Maori as a distinguishing feature of this country’s many cultures
  • Honours a respected elder or admired ancestor
  • Would delight the family to name your baby for an adored gran or special cousin
  • Translates as a characteristic that you’d like your child to have, such as “brave” or “wise”
  • Stands out from the crowd of today’s popular names
  • Is the name of the place where your baby was conceived or where you fell in love
  • Is the Maori version of an English name with special meaning for you or your partner. (This could get you out of a potentially sticky situation. There’s a famous story about bossy mother-in-law calledm Margaret who insisted the first grandchild be named after her. But daughter-in-law wouldn’t have a bar of it: “She’ll get called Maggot!” World War Three was averted by christening the wee girl Makareta – the beautiful Maori version of Margaret)

Of course, you don’t have to be Maori to choose a Maori name for your little boy or girl. Kiwis descended from other nationalities love Maori names too!

Try before you buy

As with any baby name, it pays to test drive Maori baby names before you put them on the birth certificate. Here are some pointers:

  • Do the names you’ve shortlisted fit baby’s personality and appearance?
  • Does the first name flow with baby’s middle name and/or surname? Say the whole name out loud and write it down. Does it roll off the tongue? Have a nice ring to it? Does it look good and sound right? Can you hear yourself calling it out the back door at dinner time?
  • Do you understand the meaning of the name? Is the meaning kind and respectful, or at least not offensive to others or your child? I.e. won’t cause any embarrassment or shame later in life. Remember those kids at school who got teased or, worse, bullied, because of an unfortunate choice of names by Mum and Dad? Don’t do that to your little one!
  • Avoid embarrassing abbreviations and initials. Can the name be shortened or twisted to something icky, sticky, or illegal? Do the initials spell out a rude word? Kids are cunning and imaginative: if there’s scope to turn another kid’s name into something horrible, they will
  • Is the name easy to pronounce? A small child may have trouble getting their mouth around a tongue-twister, especially one in a language they don’t understand. Or can it be shortened to a nick name?
  • Lastly, are both sides of the family okay with the name? Maybe run it past them in case there’s unmentionable Aunt of that name lurking in the family tree

Some gorgeous girl names and their possible meanings

Ahorangi – means “enlightened” in Maori
Airini – “peace”
Aihe – “dolphin”
Anahera – “angel”
Ahurewa – “sacred place”
Arataki – “to lead”
Areta – “noble”
Aroha – “love”
Amiria – “hard worker” & the Maori version of Amelia
Arorangi – “to heaven”
Atarangi – “morning sky”
Haeata – “dawn”
Hahana – “radiant light”
Hauku – “dew”
Hokaka – “desired”
Hine – “girl”
Marika – “quiet, careful”
Mahuika – the Maori Goddess of Fire!
Marama – “moon”
Ngaio – “clever”
Ngaire – silver fern
Pania – a beautiful sea maiden in a Maori myth
Whina – “helper”

Some great boy names

Arapeta – “noble, famous”
Arana – “rock”
Amiri – “from the east wind”
Hare – “manly”
Hahona – “healer”
Hemi – a Maori version of James
Hehu – “rescued by God”
Henare – “rules the home”
Irirangi – “spirit voice”
Maaka – the Maori version of Mark
Marama – “moonlight”
Matiu – “gift from God”
Tipene – the Maori version of Steven
Pita – this Maori version of Peter also embodies the qualities of stone or rock
Rawiri – “beloved”
Ropata – “bright fame”
Rua – “lake”
Ruru – morepork, NZ’s native owl
Rongo – God of Peace
Tane Mahuta – God of the forest
Tangaroa – God of the sea, rivers and lakes

If you don’t know for sure the definition of a Maori word you’re considering as a name make sure your research it: there are loads of excellent English/Maori dictionaries online or talk to someone who is fluent in the language and/or knowledgeable in tikanga Maori.

Also see New Zealand’s popular baby names for another list of Maori baby names.